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Conservatives hate new ideas, so they love Thompson
By Allan Uthman
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
An amusing study published September 10th helps to explain America's red/blue political divide: our brains are different.
The study, led by NYU political scientist David Amodio, was simple—tap a key when you see one letter on the computer screen, and don't tap a key when another letter appears.
According to AFP: “The researchers examined activity in a part of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex—that is strongly linked with the self-regulatory process of conflict monitoring.
“The match-up was unmistakable: respondents who had described themselves as liberals showed 'significantly greater conflict-related neural activity' when the hypothetical situation called for an unscheduled break in routine.
“Conservatives, however, were less flexible, refusing to deviate from old habits 'despite signals that this ... should be changed.' ”
The LA Times said that “liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.”
Of course, it's just another study which proves something everybody already knows from their own experience. Conservatives will likely simultaneously deny and confirm the study by dismissing it as “liberal bias” and pretending they don't exist, just as they did with another study last year which revealed conservatives to be more racist.
So, conservatives are hard-headed. Not a big shock. But how does someone who doesn't like new information choose a new president? Easy—they get a guy who won't give them any information. A guy they can endow with whatever qualities they want. A guy like Fred Thompson.
Regardless of the brain study, conservatives like to flap about how they “think” and liberals “feel.” But the strangely robust support for Thompson seems to be entirely based on feelings. Thompson is six foot six, has a deep, folksy drawl and a leathery, masculine face, and he is reassuringly familiar due to his many roles on TV and in movies. He has already played the president three times. Some think he waited too long to get in the race, but by hanging back, Thompson has let conservatives and the media form an image of him in his absence. This is truly what the press loves to do, and it has paid off. Thompson, who seems a lot less cocksure and virile live than he does on a soundstage, was branded the new Reagan before he gave his first stump speech.
In the time it took Thompson to enter the race, Guiliani's daughter endorsed Barack Obama, and Romney equated his sons' work for his campaign to serving in Iraq. McCain fell off the face of the earth, and Tom Tancredo advocated bombing Mecca. All the while, the absent Thompson grew in popularity. Last Thursday, while the rest of the GOP contenders debated, Thompson announced on the Tonight Show. Again, his numbers went up, while pundits fretted that he was too late, too lazy. But Thompson's got the right idea. With conservatives, the less you challenge their preconceptions, the better you'll do. The less he says, the better.
It doesn't matter that he's lobbied for an abortion rights group in 1991 (something Thompson first denied, then faked amnesia about) and lobbied for Libya and former Hation president Jean Bertrande Aristide. It doesn't matter that he doesn't go to church—Reagan didn't either. Like Reagan, Thompson has been labeled “authentic” in the press precisely because he is the opposite of authentic. He is an actor, whose personal ethics either are not what he claims them to be, or are subservient to his profit motivation. He is not anything he pretends to be—not working class, not particularly religious, not much of a social conservative at all, really. But he can fake it pretty good. Combine that with the conservative voter's tendency to stubbornly cling to comfortable beliefs in spite of reality, and you've got a winner.
In fact, if you look at the way the GOP candidates are ranking, it's easy to see that reality—even the limited version of reality Republicans acknowledge—is irrelevant. Genuine social conservatives like Huckabee and Brownback suck eggs, while the three frontrunners have all supported abortion (Romney won't last, due to the Mormon thing, plus he's too phony even for Republicans). Guiliani would stand no chance whatsoever if he hadn't happened to be around when the WTC disaster occurred. What do Rudy and Thompson have in common? They're both TV stars.
But religious issues aside, both Thompson and Guiliani satisfy the real motivations of conservative voters: simple, rigid thinking, affirmations of “we're always right/they're always wrong” tribal identity, and fear of change. In fact, as the study underscores, fear of change is the primary force behind conservatism—as William F. Buckley, Jr., put it in issue 1 of the National Review, "standing astride history, yelling: 'stop!' " Any changes conservatives want are simple rollbacks of policies and societal standards, usually back to the '50s in terms of social mores, and before the '20s in fiscal policy and labor rules.
All Thompson has to do now is ride around in a pickup truck and bluejeans (that's how he won his senate seat). He is the hollow candidate, the one voters can color with their own projected father-figure yearnings. He has to keep it vague, say “America” and “freedom” a lot, and this thing is his to lose. And then what? Who wins the vote between a triangulating Democrat, trying to straddle the antiwar left and the mushy middle, or a down-home cigar-chomping good ole boy who tells you you're always right?
The truth is, Conservatives are the ones who are driven by feelings rather than logic. It's a sin to them to try to understand opposing viewpoints. This helps to explain the still dizzying number of people who insist that WMD were found in Iraq. You've probably heard it before, but think about it: This is not a seriously disputed issue. WMD were never found, period. It just didn't happen. But most conservatives still refuse to let that fact in. To them, learning is a form of defeat. If you didn't get it right the first time, well, pretend you did anyway. Anything to avoid the dreaded prospect of having to adapt your ideology to new information.
Take global warming: In the face of an ever-growing scientific consensus that serious, human-caused climate change is coming sooner than later, all conservatives can think to do is laugh it off. Silly scientists, what do they know? Because the alternative would be to change—change their minds, their behavior, their attitudes toward environmental regulation. So forget it—take a picture of the polar icecaps and buy some real estate in central Greenland, because conservatives will be hip deep in water on their front porches before they admit they were wrong. Probably even then they'll blame it on Michael Moore somehow.
Of course, conservatives aren't the only ones susceptible to the soothing certainty of dogma. But it's their virtual inability to change their minds, regardless of the facts, that makes them so much more dangerous. We see it manifested in the ridiculously drawn out disaster in Iraq—rather than adapting to what's actually happening, Bush clings to his original, demented hallucination of a shining beacon of democracy. Another man might have reassessed and revised his goals by now. But Bush refuses to learn anything. Just this past week he was in Australia, talking about how we're “kicking ass” in Iraq. And conservatives love this about him. He is steadfast, firm, resolute—all synonyms for “doesn't change his mind.” This is a shitty, stupid trait to be exalting. This sick, authoritarian vision of “leadership” that worships unthinking stubbornness is a true danger. The idea that a leader of people should think about something once, make a decision, and then never reconsider it, is simply insane.
But that's where we are. And now here come Thompson and Guiliani, ready to pick up the mantle for ill-considered forcefulness and self-serving bullshit, ready to talk about “kicking ass,” and more convincingly than Bush ever could. It doesn't really matter if they're good Christians, as long as they make Christians feel good. As long as they don't challenge us. As long as they don't ask us to adapt, evolve, learn, or think, because that's not what conservatives do.
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